Interview with Hannah Fielding + Excerpt
Hannah Fielding recently published her latest novel, ‘Indiscretion’. Hannah’s new book sounds wonderful and I was really keen to interview her.
Can you tell me a bit about your new novel please?
Although a standalone romance novel, Indiscretion is the first book in the Andalucian Nights Trilogy, the saga of a Spanish aristocratic family that spans 70 years, from 1950 to the present day. It is the story of a young woman’s journey of discovery that takes her to a world of forbidden passion, savage beauty and danger.
The setting is spring 1950. Alexandra de Falla, a half-English, half-Spanish writer, abandons her privileged but suffocating life in London and travels to Spain to reunite with her long-estranged family.
Instead of providing the sense of belonging she yearns for, the de Fallas are riven with seething emotions, and in the grip of the wild customs and traditions of Andalucia, all of which are alien to Alexandra. Among the strange characters and sultry heat of this country, she meets a man who awakens emotions she hardly knew existed. But their path is strewn with obstacles: dangerous rivals, unpredictable events, and inevitable indiscretions.
What does Alexandra’s destiny hold for her in this flamboyant land of drama and all-consuming passions, where blood is ritually poured onto the sands of sun-drenched bullfighting arenas, mysterious gypsies are embroiled in magic and revenge, and beautiful dark-eyed señoritas hide their secrets behind elegant lacy fans?
Indiscretion is a story of love and identity, and the clash of ideals in the pursuit of happiness. Can love survive in a world where scandal and danger are never far away?
Is Andalucia as exotic as it sounds?
Of all the regions I visited in Spain, Andalucia was the place that captivated me the most and that is why I set my story there. All year you find azure skies, dazzling sunshine and sweetly fragranced gardens… colour, romance, emotion and the flamboyant figure of a flamenco dancer or the torero in the arena, sword and cape in hand, beneath the scorching sun.
For me Andalucia, and especially Granada and Seville where the action of Indiscretion takes place, is overflowing with bygone charm. Located in southern Spain, it has a distinctive exuberant culture influenced by its hot Mediterranean climate and the country’s long ruling by the Moors. For seven centuries its history was intertwined with that of the Berbers and Arabs who crossed from North Africa to Spain and founded Al-Andalus, their rutilant empire.
Andalucia’s fiestas and ferias are charged with music and dance, conjuring an image of open air, moonlight sky and all the aromas that a warm summer’s night has to offer. Women in bright-coloured dresses and silk shawls carrying rainbow-painted fans in brilliant designs, the ladies’ secret language of love. Courting couples on horseback or dancing the most evocative sevillanas. The crowded little terraces underneath the orange trees that dot the pavements and the maze of winding, narrow streets that provide shade from the hot sun. The dazzling, quaint pueblos blancos, white-washed villages hanging on steep cliffs, their houses huddled around a ruined Moorish castle, piercing the deep blue sky. The peasants working in the fields, with their sparkling black eyes and their faces weathered like the bark of the native olive trees in the breathtakingly dramatic landscapes. The wide avenues lined with spectacular purple Jacaranda trees. The splendour of the magnificent buildings and monuments. These are some of my sources of inspiration that portray the vibrant world and fruitful diversity of the culture of Spain; but they are only the tip of the iceberg.
The people of Andalusia are fun loving, friendly and hospitable. They love to eat, sing and dance. Laidback, they are never in a hurry. If you don’t make it today, there is always mañana, tomorrow. If you take a walk to the market place in the early evening you can watch the paseo, a stroll around the square in which young people socialise with each other.
The siesta passed, people meet on the streets and in bars that overflow with laughter and noisy discussions. Experience the tapear, going from one bar to another for drinks and tapas, an essential part of the social culture of Spain. Enjoy with the Spaniards, who will immediately accept any stranger into their midst, a glass of Manzanilla or Fino Sherry with exquisite tapas, small savoury snack dishes served at little tables, standing up at the bar or even sitting on upturned barrels.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Like most of my books, Indiscretion took me nine months to write, including the research. But I had been to Spain already many times before that and had read extensively about its history, culture, customs and traditions over the years.
Where do you get your wonderful ideas from?
‘Write about what you know’ is advice often given to authors and I totally agree with this. Place holds such power to colour a story, and I believe any story must be firmly rooted in the ‘where’. So essential to my work is research, not only passive through the internet and books, but physical, by travelling to the places where I am setting my story.
I have always been a writer who pays keen attention to setting; to describing carefully sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures. Since childhood I’ve loved writers who really paint a scene in your mind, and I knew when I started writing romance that I wanted to transport my readers to the time and place in which I situate the story.
I have written several novels now, and vivid setting is a common factor across each. These are books born of my travels; of poking around in back streets and cafes; of meeting locals and exploring landscapes – and, of course, of reading extensively on cultures. My aim is to transport readers to places I’ve visited and loved. In a way, I am sharing my happy experiences with the person who has done me the honour of reading my book.
Would you like to see any of your books made into films?
Of course. I think it is most authors’ fondest dream… and I dream!
Do you get to visit many exotic locations?
I love to set my writing in vibrant, beautiful countries. Burning Embers is set in Kenya, The Echoes of Love is set in Venice, Tuscany and Sardinia, and Indiscretion’s backdrop is the flamboyant countryside of Spain and its fiery people. I have since written books set on the Greek Isles, in Luxor and the desert in Egypt, the French Riviera and Lake Como.
I am lucky enough to have travelled extensively over the years, and I infuse my books with my memories of places. But where possible, I do try to visit the setting of the book I’m currently writing to immerse myself entirely in its history and culture, meet the people and experience the cuisine. I drink in the sights and sounds and smells and the very feel of the place so I can render an honest painting of the surroundings in which my characters will evolve.
Where do you do most of your writing?
My 19th-century Georgian house in Kent, England, is a couple of miles away from the sea and from the rolling countryside around Dover Castle. I love the house because it’s my home: the place I always return to, where my children grew up and where I have spent my happiest years. In summer the weather is temperate and balmy, just as I like it; and the garden, with its orchard and its giant beech trees, is a picture postcard. The autumn and winter months bring their own charm. In autumn, when the leaves of our trees turn vibrant yellows, oranges, ambers and even crimsons, I sit under one of those trees, breathe the pure air and gaze in peaceful silence at the amazing view or go for long walks in the countryside, conjuring up my romantic plots. When it snows, the landscape changes yet again and the views of my village are breathtaking. At that time, there is no better feeling than snuggling in an armchair in front of a log fire with a book.
For the other half of the year I live in France, on the southern coast of Provence in the county of Var. My house there is a mas and has a totally different feel to it than my home in England, being modern with stone floors and flimsy voile curtains. I love that part of France because of the wonderfully warm weather, the brilliant colours of the vegetation, the Mediterranean sea with its ever-changing blues and golden sandy beaches, the array of local fish and fruits and vegetables you find at the open-air stalls in the marketplace and the happy-go-lucky, friendly people. For me my home in France spells sun, blue skies, a swim in the sea, and writing in a room with a wide picture window overlooking the ocean.
Describe a day in your life.
I’m an early riser, and the first thing I do in the morning is two and a half hours of marketing for my writing – emails, social media, blogging and so on.
At eight thirty I have a bubble bath (I prefer baths to showers) and dress. Next I have a large cup of hot chocolate in winter and in summer a double expresso/Americano coffee with milk and a lump of brown sugar.
Once my chores have been dealt with, I sit at my desk and write solidly until one o’clock, lunchtime. Lunch is half an hour, and then I go back to my desk – unless it’s a lovely day, in which case I take a walk before returning to work. I write until supper time at seven o’clock.
At eight o’clock you’ll find me either reading, watching a film or, if I’m still inspired and haven’t finished the set work for the day, I write for a little longer at my computer.
Like me, this interview has probably left you wanting more. Below is an excerpt from ‘Indiscretion’.
For the week leading up to the masked ball, confusion had reigned on the ground floor at El Pavón. Servants had shifted out furniture, rolled up carpets, prepared tables for the buffet in the dining room, and chandeliers, wall sconces, columns and cornices had been decorated with garlands of bright roses interspersed with jasmine and orange blossom from the garden. As the evening began, and the sweeping strings of ballroom music filled the hacienda, El Pavón seemed transformed into a magical palace.
Although the ball was in full swing as dusk gave way to night, cars were still arriving. They stopped at the foot of the stairs with a rasp of gravel and young drivers in dark-grey suits and caps leapt out to open the doors.
In the garden, an array of colourful lanterns hung from arbours, dangled between fruit trees, encircling the fountains and pools, twinkling with light. While in the great ballroom, overlooking the east-facing gardens, Doña María Dolores’ guests, attired in all sorts of disguises, drank, joked and glided happily on the polished oak dancefloor.
The ballroom was long and rectangular, taking up the entire length of the house. At each end, French doors opened out on to terraces stocked with exotic plants. Down one side, more windows led to the wide green lawn at the side of the hacienda. High mirrors hung between the windows, framed with gilded beading. Supported on marble columns was a gallery with a wrought-iron balustrade where musicians in evening dress were playing romantic dance melodies from tangos to Viennese waltzes.
Alexandra paused on the threshold of the vast room, a trifle overwhelmed by the grand spectacle. All the guests wore masks of velvet, satin or lace, giving them a mysterious air. She watched for a moment as Ondine, Goddess of the Northern Seas, leant against a column, lost in a dream, her head slightly tilted to one side. In her long tunic of turquoise silk sprinkled with iridescent sequins, she appeared to have just risen from the depths of the ocean, her beautiful golden hair draped gracefully about her bare shoulders. A torero in black silk breeches, drawn in at the hips, with a waistcoat brocaded with silk, knee-length stockings and shiny flat shoes, gazed at her. Just as he had decided to approach, another gallant figure, Oreste, bearing his father’s sword in his belt, swooped in first and, bowing deeply before her, drew her on to the dancefloor. They passed a maharani wearing a magnificent sari of dark gold brocade, who was walking towards the veranda arm-in-arm with a American Indian in a headdress of multi-coloured feathers and a jacket of brown suede.
A hand tapped Alexandra’s shoulder. Startled, she turned, almost bumping into a couple of waiters carrying trays laden with appetizing tapas and small glasses of fino sherry. The intruder was a musketeer in a wide soft hat, loose breeches and a leather doublet. A black mask hid his twinkling eyes but she recognized the beaming smile.
‘Well, Cousin,’ he said cheerfully, ‘I didn’t have to search very long to find the most beautiful girl at the ball. I told you I could spot you under any disguise.’
She smiled at Ramón, happy to find a friend in this sea of masked strangers, but it was difficult to concentrate on what he was saying. Her eyes were scouring the dancefloor, eagerly scrutinizing the whirling couples from behind her velvet mask. What, or more precisely who, was she looking for, exactly? After all, she knew nothing of the mysterious Conde, except that he had a deep and seductive voice. Recalling it made her pulse run faster and her knees slightly weak. Could the peculiar episode at Mascaradas have been merely a foolish jest designed to mystify her? Surely Old Jaime would not have taken part in a practical joke? She started with indignation at the idea she might be the victim of some prank. Yet, the more she thought about it, the more that seemed improbable. It would be an expensive joke to play, after all. No, the sheer cost of her beautiful costume had to be proof of the generosity and admiration of her romantic stranger.
As the evening progressed and there was still no sign of the mysterious Conde, Alexandra was forced to admit that she must have been the victim of a practical joke. It was gone eleven o’clock, surely he would have shown up by now if he was going to? Putting aside her disappointment, she told herself it had all been merely a captivating puzzle, one that had fired her romantic imagination and aroused her yearning for adventure, nothing more. At least she had some ideas for her new hero, she reminded herself, and decided to enter fully into the festive spirit, now that she had given up on her elusive stranger.
She didn’t notice the oriental prince, wearing a costume similar in style and colour to her own, observing her quizzically from a far-off corner of the room.
A pierrot in a black-and-white silk suit with a collar of pleated tulle and a bonnet decorated with black pompons asked Alexandra for a dance. She allowed him to move her around the dancefloor, with only half an ear on the eager conversation he was making as she took in the sea of colourful guests. It was almost midnight. Don Felipe was paying court to a shepherdess in a crinoline gown. Further along the room Mercedes, disguised as a bluebell, wearing a crown of tiny blue flowers and a dress with a bodice of green velvet and an organdie skirt, with petals of periwinkle blue, was squabbling with Electra, who was sulking in a corner. Isis and Osiris were discussing something with a pretty redhead in Savoy costume.
Alexandra was once again aware of the pierrot, who drew her closer to him. ‘Soon it will be midnight,’ he whispered into her ear, ‘and the lights will go out—’
‘Excuse me señor, I’ve come to collect my wife,’ interrupted a deep, warm voice. Alexandra smothered a gasp. Her heart gave such a jolt she thought it might leap out of her mouth.
The first notes of a Strauss waltz began. Before she could recover, the stranger swung Alexandra into his arms, holding her so tightly to him she was unable to lift her head to see his face. The blood pounded in her veins. She was conscious of his strong, sinuous length against her and the turmoil of her own body as his warmth soaked into her, adding to the heat welling up inside her like a furnace. Her temple brushed against his jaw; his skin was smooth. He smelled of soap, mint and tobacco, indefinably masculine. As they twirled around the dancefloor, Alexandra was carried away by an overpowering tide that left her light-headed, almost breathless. It was as though she were under a spell, a bewitching charm of the mind and senses that had no place in the dictionary of her experience.
Eventually, the giddy whirlwind ended and they found themselves on the terrace. In contrast to the brightly lit ballroom they had left, it was bathed in an almost unreal, diaphanous light from the moon and the glowing lanterns in the trees. They waltzed in silence for a few more minutes, taking in the melancholy softness of the night.
‘I owe you an apology for stepping in just now but I could see no other way of tearing you away from the arms of your too-forward partner,’ he said, in those same ardent, deep tones that had so haunted Alexandra over the past few days.
She caught her breath, unable to reply immediately and all the while hoping he wasn’t aware of the urgent beating of her heart. He still held on to her firmly and she could only look up at him with a smile. The moon disappeared behind a cloud, shadowing his features.
The stranger was almost a head taller than Alexandra. Under his light cloak she could see that his costume was very much like hers. It was in a similar cloth of pure, ivory-coloured silk, yet less decorated. His head was clad in a plain turban, which entirely concealed his hair. In the wide faja, the silk band that clasped his waist, he had placed a navaja, much like the ones Alexandra had noticed at the station in Puerto de Santa María on the day of her arrival, the difference being his was set with genuine precious stones. His shoulders were broad; his embrace firm and close.
As a shaft of moonlight fell briefly on his face, Alexandra’s heart missed a beat. In spite of the half-shadow and the narrow mask shielding his tanned features, she recognized the stranger she had seen on the seafront and then in the Church of Santa María: the man on the prayer stool who had so deeply disturbed her. So it was the same man after all. One man who now made something inside her thrill deliciously at his nearness.
Somewhere far off, a clock struck midnight. An owl hooted, as if in response. The air was fragrant with the sweet smell of jasmine and orange blossom. Masks fell and shouts of joy burst from all sides under a shower of confetti.
The oriental prince leaned his head forward towards his sultana.
‘Will you allow me, señorita?’ he whispered, his lean fingers with infinite gentleness removing her velvet mask. His gaze delved deeply into her large, glowing green irises, reading the emotion in her upturned face as her body yielded helplessly to his touch. A rush of blood coursed wildly through Alexandra’s veins as his hand once more slipped about her waist, pausing before pulling her against him.
About Hannah Fielding
Hannah Fielding is an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: writing full time at her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breath-taking views of the Mediterranean.
To date, Hannah has published three novels: Burning Embers, ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’, set in Kenya, 1970; the award-winning Echoes of Love, ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’ set in turn-of-the-millennium Italy; and Indiscretion, her fieriest novel yet, set in 1950s Spain.